JIS News

Minister of Information and Development, Donald Buchanan, has charged Jamaicans to extend greater responsibility and care in order to defeat chronic homelessness, which affected some 800 to 1,500 persons.
“All societies contend with this problem. The difference lies in how we respond,” the Minister said, noting that, “what is needed is a combined force of parental, family and societal responsibility, all coming together, to tackle the problem.”
The Minister, who represented Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, at the official opening of the Open Arms Drop-In Centre on the grounds of the Bellevue Hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 8), pointed out that, “with support and care, many homeless persons are capable of achieving a measure of independence and living normal lives. But they cannot do that if ignored and treated as social outcasts.”
According to the Information Minister, the opening of the drop-in centre was one element of a five-year strategic plan developed by the Board of Supervision for the Relief of the Poor in the Ministry of Local Government and Environment, to address the problem of homelessness.
The strategic plan includes short-term residential rehabilitation programmes for persons who need to learn the skills of living again. It also speaks to providing permanent housing with support for persons without families, who are unable to live independently.
“Under the plan,” the Minister explained, “each parish, at the level of the parish councils, will be able to modify and adopt the overall broad strategic direction into its own operational plan, taking into account its own resources and the extent of the problem.”
He noted however that “not every parish will need a drop-in centre for the homeless and the initiatives implemented in one parish to deal with the problem might not apply in another.”
While expressing the government’s commitment to creating greater awareness, attitudinal change and putting facilities in place to help the homeless, Mr. Buchanan said that these strategies on their own, could not adequately address the problem. “The missing link in the chain is the involvement of families”, he emphasised, “and especially those, who choose to treat their relatives challenged with mental illness, drug abuse and homelessness, as though they are less than human beings.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Maureen Irons-Morgan, Senior Medical Officer at the Bellevue Hospital and Chairman of the Committee for the Homeless, pointed out that, “this drop in centre is not a residential facility.”
Explaining that, “it is a first step outreach programme,” she said it was expected that “on a daily basis, homeless persons will come to the centre and they will have a safe place to be, personal hygiene care, and medical mental health care.”
Dr. Irons-Morgan indicated that the centre would also provide counselling to the homeless, while connecting them to many existing services. “We will help them to make the connections with their families. We expect that we will be preparing them for jobs, [and] we expect to have income generating projects [for them],” she added.
The Open Arms Drop-In Centre has been established in the corporate area as a model project to be adopted in other parishes. It occupies a building, which was renovated at a cost of over $4 million. The venture was financed by the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund.